Dr Who and the Communist: the politics and work of Malcolm Hulke | lipstick socialist

Historian Michael Herbert looks at Malcolm Hulke’s career and how his socialist views influenced his work. It is a great read.

Dr Who and the Communist: the politics and work of Malcolm Hulke | lipstick socialist.

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Doctor Who – Invasion of the Dinosaurs

Doctor Who Story 071 – Invasion of the Dinosaurs

dinosaur
Source: Screen capture. Copyright 1974 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Malcolm Hulke

What’s It About: The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith return to London to find it evacuated. The city is full of military, looters, and dinosaurs!

I’ll start with the most obvious flaw of this story: the special effects. I almost wonder why anyone on the production team thought they could pull off dinosaurs. I will say, however, that I watched Sid and Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost as a child. While the dinosaurs on Land of the Lost were somewhat more maneuverable (somewhat), they are not that far removed from the dinosaurs in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. And even with the disappointing realization of the monsters in this story, I think this is a good, well-paced story.

The scenes of abandoned London are truly atmospheric and creepy. The deceit and menace and paranoia are extremely well played in this story. I even find the ultimate plot, about a group of elites wanting to reset the world to a golden age where they are the only humans left, somewhat plausible. I only have to remember this year’s Presidential election and extrapolate the rhetoric a bit.

The Doctor and Sarah work quite well together. The scene where they have their mug shots taken is amusing and done with very little dialogue. Mike Yates gets some darker material in this story, and even Sgt. Benton gets to be the loyal hero. I think it is a shame that so many people allow the dinosaur effects to mar this story. I think it is great.

My Rating: 4/5

Doctor Who – Carnival of Monsters and Frontier in Space

Doctor Who Story 066 – Carnival of Monsters

Who Wrote It: Robert Holmes

What’s It About: Now that he has a fully functioning TARDIS, The Doctor takes Jo on a quick jaunt to Metebelis Three, and the two end up on the SS Bernice near Singapore. But the SS Bernice isn’t on Earth. It is actually stuck in a device called a Miniscope, which is being used to entertain security agents on the planet Inter Minor.

This is an interesting and clever story with a few of the Holmesian trademarks. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy this story. This is the second time I have viewed it, and the first time I loved it. This time, however, I merely found myself checking off the plot points as they arose. This is where we see Ian Marter. This is where we see the Drashig. This is where we see The Doctor leave the Miniscope, and so on. I think I may have been in the wrong frame of mind when I watched this story. It was in the midst of some serious Doctor Who (or maybe Jon Pertwee) burnout. Regardless, I won’t hold my apathy against this story. Maybe the next time I watch it, I will feel different.

My Rating: 2.5/5, pending reevaluation in a few years. I didn’t give this story a fair shake.

 

The Doctor meets with the Draconian King
The Doctor meets with the Draconian King (Source: Tardis Index File. Copyright 1973 by BBC.)

Doctor Who Story 067 – Frontier in Space

Who Wrote It: Malcolm Hulke

What’s It About: The Doctor and Jo land on an Earth cargo ship (in space!), and soon after the ship is attacked by Ogrons. To the crew of the ship, however, the Ogrons appear to be Draconians, an empire with which Earth is currently at peace, although that peace is rapidly deteriorating. It seems that someone is attempting to instigate a war between the Earth and Draconian Empires.

I started Frontier in Space soon after Carnival of Monsters. I think my burnout carried over. But upon the introduction of The Master to the story, I found my enjoyment rising. For whatever reason, I was eager to see Roger Delgado again.

The story is actually a good one, and I’ve seen it used in other science fiction shows (Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine being among them). The Doctor and Jo spend much of the first three episodes being shunted in and out of prison by humans and then by Draconians. Sadly, this gets old pretty fast. The Master arrives in the middle of the story, however, and actually breathes some life into this story. Suddenly we have an identifiable antagonist, even if he isn’t the final foe lurking behind the scenes.

Another interesting subplot involved General Williams. Even though we are meant to dislike him at first, he never struck me as utterly despicable. In fact, near the end of the story, his character changes. He is converted to The Doctor’s side and actively helps him and The Draconian prince investigate The Ogrons’ involvement. Personally, I wish we had gotten General Williams’s backstory earlier in the serial. It would have explained his hatred of The Draconians and made for a more satisfying change of heart later. It makes me wonder if this is handled better in the novelization.

And yes, in the last episode we get a reveal of who is really behind the war; The Master was merely a freelance agent. I’ll save that spoiler for now because it leads into the next story. So, to be continued . . . .

My Rating: 3/5

 

For the moment, I’m back on track. My local library has quite a nice collection of Doctor Who DVDs, and that should get me through the remainder of the Pertwee era and completely through the Tom Baker era. I’m still aiming to finish the classic series before the anniversary. So long as school and work don’t consume all my free time, I think it is possible. Let’s hope the burnout doesn’t return.

Doctor Who and The Silurians Wrap-Up

Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by The BBC

I mentioned in the previous post that unless something changed, a violent solution was the only real option for preventing a larger war. Well, something changed. I didn’t expect The Doctor to completely turn the situation around, but in an excellent bit of plotting, Malcolm Hulke wrote an effective resolution. The Doctor successfully tricked The Silurians back in to hibernation. Again, I’m impressed with the resolution.

This brings us to the ending, the point at which Hulke wants us to sit back and ask the difficult questions. Now that The Silurians are back in hibernation, The Doctor wants to study their technology and reanimate them one-by-one to negotiate a peace. The Brigadier, possibly acting on orders, possibly acting on his own, destroys the base and The Silurians with it. On the one hand, The Silurians were no longer a threat and humanity had much to gain from their technology. A peace was certainly possible, just with different leadership negotiating. On the other hand, the situation had grown extremely bad. A plague was just narrowly averted; The Van Allen Belt was almost destroyed, which would have killed all the humans on the planet; UNIT lost a great deal of men due to attacks by the younger, vengeful Silurian. There is no guarantee a peace could be negotiated, and should one Silurian refuse, then what? Imprison it and move on to another? Kill it? I suppose the best option is to try. If there is one Silurian community, there are sure to be others. If a peace can be achieved with this first group, it would go a long way to achieving peace with future groups. I love that this story asks some hard questions.

Having watched this story and its Matt Smith recreation, I have to say that I prefer the depth of character and pace of this story. Sure, it is probably a bit too long, but the length gave us the opportunity to explore some excellent characters, so it didn’t feel like a waste. If all seven (or six) part stories could be this good, I would be quite happy. Plus, I feel this story dealt with the conflict between humans and Silurians with more earnestness. It is certainly an idea worth exploration. Honestly, I would love to see another Silurian story where the peace talks are actually progressing. I think it would be fun to see Earth being shared by the two peoples. If we can have Doctor Who stories where the universe is rebooted or a giant Cyberman walks through Victorian London, then why can’t we create a near-future Earth where the planet is shared by Silurians and humans?

Highlights

  • The lead cast is excellent. The tension between The Doctor and The Brigadier really develops their relationship and, with proper work, could create a moral tug-of-war that would challenge and sharpen both characters. UNIT could be a great force of peace and protection under these two leaders. Liz Shaw works wonderfully as a scientist, as someone who sparks The Doctor’s intellectual side.
  • The support cast was excellent as well. Quinn was a great antagonist and his death was sudden and surprising. Dr. Lawrence was good as the no-nonsense facility director who slowly descended into madness due to constant setbacks, frustrations, and illness. And, of course, Geoffrey Palmer is always good, no matter what role he is in.
  • Great, thought-provoking plot with a fascinating concept.

Lowlights

  • Okay, I must admit, I did not like the music. It wasn’t all bad, admittedly. There were some good pieces here, but it often seemed that the music didn’t match the tone of the scene. And did I hear kazoo*? Okay, let’s just admit that this was the most distracting element of the music. It can be incredibly difficult to make a kazoo work in soundtracks. Points for creativity and experimentation, even if it didn’t really work.
  • Those poor actors in The Silurian costumes. It must have been difficult knowing how to portray speaking. My neck would ache just watching them.

Final Verdict: This is a great story. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I’m looking forward to the next story.

*Note: With further research, I have learned it wasn’t a kazoo, but a crumhorn. Similar sounds, oddly enough. Again, I’m all for experimentation, especially finding unusual or archaic instruments to create new, uncommon sounds, but they have to fit what is happening on screen.

Doctor Who and The Silurians, Part 6 (and, incidentally, my 300th post!)

Masters finishes infecting London, then graciously dies. (Source: Doctor Who and the Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by The BBC.)

Okay, so UNIT really dropped the ball on this one. They were so eager to confront the possibility of a Silurian invasion that they failed to quarantine the power plant even though evidence of a plague was present. Sure, it makes for great drama as Masters stumbles through London, people dropping in his wake, but it makes UNIT look a bit ineffective. The bureaucratic storm that must have occurred after this story (you know, between stories) must have been massive.

With their leader now dead, the anti-human Silurian takes charge and initiates a series of guerilla attacks against the UNIT soldier. At this point, The Doctor’s goal of peace is probably shot. While a larger war may still be preventable, violence is now inevitable as the new leader will not negotiate. UNIT soldiers are being killed; a plague has been unleashed by The Silurians. Unless something big happens in the next episode, I don’t see that a peaceful solution is going to work here. Possibly the only option would be to supplant the current Silurian ruler, which would only work if the majority of the Silurians were neutral on the humans. It happened once before, with The Sensorites, after all.

Hot science action! (Source: Doctor Who and the Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by The BBC.)

I enjoy that this episode has a science montage. While watching The Doctor and Liz try one drug after another on the infected blood sample, I couldn’t help thinking how this is one area in which the classic series is different from the new series: it shows the scientific process. In the new series, the Doctor talks and rambles his way to a solution. We don’t often see him engage in the scientific method; we only ever see the end results. I suppose this is dictated by the format of the new series, a type of trade-off we get in order to have sexy David Tennant, high quality special effects, and inexplicably complicated plots. All science is now done by the sonic screwdriver, I guess.

Oh, and 300 posts! How about that?

Doctor Who and the Silurians, Part 5

The anti-human faction of Silurians enact their plan to attack humanity. (Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by BBC.)

Everything is set out nice and clear now, both from a plot perspective, but also the theme. We will start with the plot.

The Silurians ruled the Earth millions of years ago. They had an advanced civilization. One day, they detected a small planet on a collision course with the Earth, so they put their entire civilization into hibernation until the cataclysmic collision was over and the Earth’s atmosphere had stabilized. What they failed to account for was the Earth’s gravitational pull, which pulled the small planet into orbit rather than collision. The small planet became the moon. The Silurians slept. They are now waking up and many of them want their planet back. The Doctor has taken it upon himself to broker a peace between Silurians and humans because the alternative would be war. The Doctor is, ultimately, in a difficult position as neither side is entirely willing to trust him. He is alien, thus he may have sympathy for The Silurians. He looks like a human, therefore he may have sympathy for the humans.

This brings us to the theme. Doctor Who and The Silurians has quite a few thematic elements. As with most Doctor Who of this (and previous) eras, it has a strong Cold War element. You can read UNIT and the British government as a stand-in for The West, and The Silurians as a stand-in for the communist East. It can also be seen as a commentary about racism in an increasingly diverse Britain. The DVD includes a documentary called What Lies Beneath that unpacks quite a few ideas that permeate this story, intentionally or not. There is a lot to explore in this story, and I love that.

Doctor Who and The Silurians, Part 4

Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by BBC.

How does one reboot a monster?

Between 1989 and 2005, Doctor Who was able to pass into a type of background consciousness. When asked about it, people would have probably made reference to The Doctor, scarves, a police box, or Daleks. Memories of Silurians would have been limited to a niche group of fans. So, when Steven Moffat chose to bring the Silurians back in 2010, the question of reboot must certainly have applied. Does one resume from where the classic series left off? Does one completely reimagine the Silurians?

Ultimately, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood redesigned the creatures, but retold the same story. There are quite a few differences, admittedly, but the ultimate core of the story—contact between humans and a recently awakened tribe of Silurians and The Doctor’s attempt to prevent a war—remain the same. This is an idea I enjoy because it casts the Silurians as an intelligent race, not unlike humans, rather than monsters.

Which story does better: Doctor Who and The Silurians or The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood? I have my bias, but I’ll decide when I finish part seven.

Doctor Who and the Silurians, Part 3

Source: Doctor Who and the Silurians screen capture. Copyright 1970 by British Broadcasting Corporation.

I will delay talking about the Silurian until a future post. Honestly, there’s nothing much to talk about. It was merely a quick, cliff hanger reveal. Instead, I will talk about Quinn.

It was established earlier that Quinn knew the source of the power shortages: the creatures in the cave were leeching power. In return for access to this power, Quinn was promised scientific knowledge. Already we have the shady-human-allied-with-the-villain trope. These things usually end poorly for the human, and with the end of this episode, nothing much has changed there.

However, as villains go, Quinn isn’t really evil; he is just a bit greedy. He doesn’t want to tell The Doctor about the Silurians because he doesn’t want to share the credit. Fair enough, but this selfishness is putting people in danger; it is getting people killed.

The Doctor’s investigation in this episode reminds me, in a way, of a Poirot adaptation. The Doctor has his suspicions early on, but he must find evidence (that pesky evidence). Knowing Quinn’s involvement in something mysterious, The Doctor trails him and confronts him. The Doctor drops many hints that he knows, trying to trick Quinn into revealing the truth, before appealing outright.

Thus far, I’m enjoying the pace of this story. Things are being revealed at a leisurely pace, and each episode so far has had its own tone and focus. So far, so good.

Doctor Who and the Silurians, Part 2

Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians screen capture. Copyright 1970 by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Doctor Who has had a long streak of pacifism. Arguably, this streak became the strongest during the Pertwee years. This may be the biggest difference between the first two Doctors and the Third Doctor: violence. The First Doctor, let’s not forget, was eager to brain an injured Neanderthal just to convince Ian, Barbara, and Susan to return to the TARDIS. The Second Doctor would put companions and innocents in danger just to gather more information. While it is still too soon, at this point, to determine this Doctor’s views on violence, he seems to have turned a more critical eye toward it.

And rightly so. The Doctor is stuck on Earth. He is the lone Time Lord on a planet full of primitive (from his perspective) people. Sure, he likes humans, but they are not his equals. Thus, when a UNIT soldier opens fire on a humanoid creature in the caves surrounding the research center, it is a bad sign. First, there is no evidence the creature meant any harm. As The Doctor points out, it may have been calling the dinosaur creature away from the soldier. Second, it is a signal that the alien, in any form, is other. Perhaps it is best to shoot first and figure out the truth later. This implication puts The Doctor in danger. His human appearance, in this case, is his best defense. The Doctor has every right to cast a critical eye on the military tendency to attack because, if circumstances were different, he would be the enemy rather than the ally.

The strength of The Brigadier’s character is that he must mediate both worlds. He is human and he is defending England (at the very least) from alien attack. His first two experiences with aliens were negative. UNIT was born in violence, not peace. While The Silurians—and later threats—may not be on par with The Great Intelligence, they must still be approached with caution. UNIT isn’t Torchwood; they do not have technology to compete with civilizations that can traverse space and time. And just how does the military repel an attack from the astral plane?

But The Brigadier has a great ally in The Doctor. He must protect that working relationship, that friendship. The Doctor must act as a conscience to temper the military side. The Brigadier, unlike some military minds in Doctor Who, allows this conversation. He is willing to listen, to take advice. This is a new dynamic for the show.

Doctor Who and The Silurians Part 1

Story by Malcolm Hulke; Directed by Timothy Combe

Am I back to the episodic format? Maybe. We shall see how long it entertains me.

Doctor Who and The Silurians is off to a great start. Sure, the dinosaur in the caves looks a bit cheap, but director Timothy Combe covers for it well enough. What I find great so far is the tension. The setting is an atomic research center built in caves in Wenley Moor. This underground facility is attempting to convert atomic energy directly into electricity. However, after three months of power shortages and personnel issues, UNIT is sent to investigate. I find it a bit odd that UNIT, which has the extraterrestrial as its mandate, would investigate the viability of an atomic program, but one must justify one’s funding somehow.

Source: Doctor Who and The Silurians DVD screen capture. Copyright 1970 by British Broadcasting Corporation.

The troubling aspect about this crisis is put well by the Brigadier; he puts the technical failures over the personnel problems. The Doctor quickly intuits that the key to the mystery lies with the human side of the project. Workers have been experiencing psychotic episodes. When investigating one worker, a survivor from an accident in one of the caves, The Doctor finds a broken mind that is compelled to draw figures on the sick bay wall. Later, The Doctor and Liz figure out that all the workers who experienced the psychotic breakdown had worked in the cyclotron chamber.

So, a great start. It is also fun to see The Doctor forced to be subordinate to The Brigadier. UNIT is still a military organization, and that means there is a chain of command, a structure that must be obeyed. The Doctor needs more evidence than a man drawing on a wall. The Brigadier is right. He has to rein The Doctor in a bit. This is the sacrifice The Doctor has made to continue his own work to fix the TARDIS. He is out of his comfort zone. This creates a wonderful dynamic.